Saturday, July 25, 2009
Sharm debacle scripted in US
What made PM crumble so abjectly?
Shashi Tharoor may have been cavalier in describing the July 16 India-Pakistan joint statement, issued after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Sharm el-Sheikh, as a mere “diplomatic paper that is not a legal document” and hence not binding on either country or worth the attention it has attracted, but the Pakistanis are hopping mad. On Friday, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said, “The insinuations made by Shashi Tharoor were unwarranted and inconsistent with diplomatic norms.” Both countries, he added, should refrain from remarks that “detract from the progress made in Sharm el-Sheikh.”
While Mr Tharoor’s supercilious comments, which should really have been put out by him as part of his daily ‘tweet service’ instead of being told to mediapersons at Parliament House, are unlikely to have stumped too many people within and outside the Government, what is surprising is that the Pakistanis are incensed. Here was an opportunity for them to turn around and say, “If the joint statement is not binding on India, nor is it binding on us.” And that would have put to an end needless speculation over whether or not Mr Gilani will fulfil his assurance that “Pakistan will do everything in its power” to “bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice”, an assurance that, we are now told by Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna, prompted our Prime Minister to compromise national interest by delinking terrorism from talks.
But neither Mr Tharoor’s flippancy nor Mr Krishna’s stout defence of the joint statement answers questions that have come to dominate public discourse ever since our pusillanimous Prime Minister’s shameful capitulation in Sharm el-Sheikh. Nor, for that matter, does Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon’s sly attempt to deflect criticism of Mr Singh by suggesting that the joint statement’s “drafting was not perfect” provide us with a clue as to why our tough-talking Prime Minister turned so disgracefully timorous when he met Mr Gilani.
Soon after the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai, the Prime Minister told a shocked nation that “some Pakistani official agencies must have supported” the fidayeen attacks. On December 11, 2008, while speaking in the Lok Sabha, he was all fire-and-brimstone when he described Pakistan as the “epicentre of terrorism”. He added that “the infrastructure of terrorism has to be dismantled permanently” before India can even consider resuming dialogue with Pakistan. On June 16, when the Prime Minister met Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinburg, he told him bluntly, and in front of mediapersons, “I must tell you quite frankly that I have come with the limited mandate of discussing how Pakistan can deliver on its assurances that its territory would not be used for terrorist attacks on India.” On July 9, Mr SM Krishna told Parliament, “Notwithstanding Pakistan Government’s assurances to us, terrorists in Pakistan continue attacks against India.”
Between July 9 and July 11, something happened that turned all that bluster into pitiful whimper. On his way back from the G-8 summit in L’Aquila, the Prime Minister, discarding all pretensions of pursuing a tough, no-nonsense policy on Pakistan, said India would “walk more than half the distance” if Islamabad offered a “renewed reaffirmation” of its promise to “bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre to justice”. The demand that the “infrastructure of terrorism has to be dismantled permanently”, that “Pakistan must deliver on its assurances that its territory would not be used for terrorist attacks on India”, suddenly metamorphosed into a timidly expressed expectation of “renewed reaffirmation” of a promise that the whole world knows Pakistan has no intention of fulfilling.
By the time the Prime Minister met Mr Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh, that expectation had turned into snivelling submission to Pakistan’s insidious motives, best exemplified by the inclusion of the implied allegation of India’s involvement in the separatist violence in Baluchistan in the joint statement. No less worse was the Prime Minister’s endorsement of Pakistan’s long-held contention that “action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed”.
Perhaps the Prime Minister believed that he would be feted back home for his gutless deed in Sharm el-Sheikh, if not by the masses then the morally bankrupt middle classes which had collectively ensured his continuation in office by voting for the Congress in this summer’s general election. We can also presume that he had hoped the Congress would be ecstatic and ruthlessly put down any dissenting voices in Parliament and outside. On his part, he would claim that nothing had been conceded to Pakistan, insist that it was a splendid diplomatic victory, and demand that all patriots should support the appalling sell-out of India’s national interest. After all, that’s how he craftily manipulated public opinion and political support in his favour so as to let the US have its way on the nuclear deal.
This time, however, the Prime Minister’s bluff has been called, if not by the middle classes, which are still besotted with him for not finding it offensive to be called an American stooge, then by the masses. There is national outrage over his capitulation in Sharm el-Sheikh and even the Prime Minister’s spin masters masquerading as journalists in the English language media have been compelled to ask some discomfiting questions. As for his party, the Congress, sensing popular revulsion, has steadfastly steered clear of coming to the Prime Minister’s defence.
To the Prime Minister’s credit, he did try to sell the sell-out as a great achievement that his genius alone could accomplish. No, he told Parliament, delinking Pakistani terrorism from peace talks does not mean we will talk to the sponsors of cross-border jihadi violence. Only to be controverted by his Minister for External Affairs who subsequently told India Today that the Prime Minister agreed to delink terror and talks because “we will have to continue to talk to Pakistan (as) there is no alternative”. But to talk, both Mr Singh and Mr Krishna insist, is not to resume the ‘composite dialogue’. That’s bunkum because the joint statement clearly mentions the ‘composite dialogue process’, which includes the ‘Kashmir issue’, and not casual tittle-tattle over tea and biscuits.
What, then, forced the Prime Minister to swallow his brave words and do a grovelling act? Was the debacle at Sharm el-Sheikh scripted in Washington, DC? Or is this the first step towards the Prime Minister facilitating the fruition of President Barack Hussein Obama’s AfPak policy which can succeed only if Pakistan is suitably mollycoddled and allowed to regain its ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan via the Taliban? That would also involve India winding up its development programmes and shutting down its diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. The line of least resistance which has come to define the Obama Administration’s approach to Pakistan is now being slavishly replicated in South Block under the Prime Minister’s tutelage.
[Appears as Coffee Break in Sunday Pioneer, Jyly 26.]